Buying Prescription Drugs in Mexico

Legality and Limits of Bringing Medications Into the U.S.

Many seniors travel to Mexico for more than a vacation. For many, especially those who live along the southern border, a trip to Mexico can mean medication cost savings. Even with Medicare Part D prescription plan, many seniors still find medication costs to be a financial burden.

An older woman reading instructions for medicine
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They may not yet be old enough to be eligible for Medicare, or they may have hit the "doughnut hole" in the Medicare plan and cannot afford to pay the full retail price. They may also need medications that are not covered under their Medicare drug plan.

Are Prescriptions From Mexico Legal?

You are allowed to bring FDA-approved prescription medications back into the United States for your personal use, with the following stipulations. In general, you may bring up to 50 dosage units without a prescription.

To bring more than 50 dosage units across the border you need a prescription from an FDA-approved U.S. physician. A prescription from a Mexican doctor is no longer acceptable. However, U.S. Customs agents may prohibit a supply that is for more than 60 to 90 days.

All medications must be declared upon arrival and be in their original containers. Drugs that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not be acceptable for such importation. It is against the law not to properly declare imported medications with U.S. Customs.

Importing Unapproved New Drugs

The importation of "unapproved new drugs" for the purpose of distribution and sale is prohibited by the FDA. Unapproved new drugs are any drugs, including foreign-made versions of U.S. approved drugs, that have not received FDA approval to demonstrate they meet the federal requirements for safety and effectiveness.

The FDA has guidance policies in place that do allow some discretion in the enforcement of this regulation. The circumstances under which the regulations may be relaxed include:

  1. The product is for a serious condition for which effective treatment may not be available domestically either through commercial or clinical means.
  2. There is no known commercialization or promotion of the product to persons residing in the U.S.
  3. The product does not represent an unreasonable risk.
  4. The individual affirms in writing that it is for their own use (generally not more than a 3-month supply) and provides the name and address of the U.S.-licensed doctor responsible for their treatment with the product, or provides evidence that the product is for the continuation of a treatment begun in a foreign country.

This does not mean that the FDA will always allow individuals to import medications at will. This does, however, provide seniors who cannot obtain or afford medications in the United States some options.

Precautions

No one should self-prescribe prescription drugs—all medication should be taken under the advisement and monitoring of a physician. While some drugs are available over-the-counter in Mexico, they will be treated as prescription medications for the purpose of bringing them into the U.S. for personal use.

Be aware that the laws and guidelines under which U.S. Customs Agents operate change frequently and without notice. Advice may not be entirely applicable when you attempt to bring prescription drugs across the border. If you have questions about current laws, contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. CFR—Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Updated April 1, 2019.

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Personal importation. Updated August 3, 2018.

  3. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Prohibited and restricted items. Updated July 11, 2019.